Time to beef up EU trade rules
By Shefali Sharma and Mute Schimpf, Opinion, EUObserver
13. Jul, 2017
Shefali Sharma is the director of the European Office of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.
Mute Schimpf is a food campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe.
BRUSSELS | The long-standing conflict with the United States over the European Union's ban on the use of growth hormones in beef cattle is back on the table.
Two decades ago, the US and EU clashed over the health impacts of using hormones to speed up the growth of cattle, before both sides agreeing on a fragile compromise to end the trade fight.
The conflict is on the verge of a major comeback after the US meat industry pushed for a change in the EU’s beef import rules.
Now it is up to president Donald Trump’s US trade representative (USTR), Robert Lighthizer, to decide on whether to buckle to corporate pressure and slap new punitive duties on EU agricultural exports, as well as a possible rotating “carousel” of sanctions on other products - ensuring the impacts hit as many sectors as possible.
The EU has prohibited the use of growth-promoting hormones in beef since 1989 because of concerns for human health.
In 2008, the US won a World Trade Organization (WTO) challenge to that decision, winning the right to impose retaliatory tariffs on EU farm goods.
Revenge of the tariffs
At the time, the US and EU decided to play nice by agreeing to a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), which started a special programme to import a set quantity of beef - not treated by hormones - into the EU.
With other countries such as Brazil and Uruguay competing for that quota, the US beef companies, led by the North American Meat Institute - the most powerful U.S. meat lobby - have become increasingly incensed that they have a declining share of the programme.
With the MOU set to expire, the previous USTR, started a process late last year to determine a list of retaliatory tariffs to impose on the EU for the hormone ban, and launched a period of public consultation.
The USTR received more than 11,000 comments, primarily from US retailers of EU motorcycles. Their import costs would double if the US were to follow through with slapping tariffs on EU motorcycle producers.
The US could also raise tariffs on EU exports of Roquefort cheese and Perrier water - raising concerns both from US grocery stores and EU exporters.
At a public hearing in February, William Busis from USTR stated the issue plainly: “The way trade disputes get resolved is that stakeholders within Europe talk to their member governments, and then their member governments talk to the commission. And then there is enough, I don’t know if the word is pressure, but there is enough input (emphasis added) that the commission then decides, ‘Oh, yes, maybe I should resolve this dispute.’”
The US is clearly hoping that hitting other sectors will get the European Commission to cave in and allow the imports of hormone beef.
The hormone beef case raises fundamental questions about the role of trade and the influence of industrial players.
Fundamental questions ...